Tafelberg housing viability to be tested

Helen Zille

The statement from the provincial government that they would look into the financial viability of affordable housing at the old Tafelberg school site was welcomed by Ndifuna Ukwazi, the legal centre acting on behalf of the Reclaim the City campaign.

However, the organisation says the process must be open and transparent after reports of a conflict of interest in the original sale of the Sea Point property (“Disappointed residents ‘sick of broken promises’”, Atlantic Sun, July 21).

Michael Mpofu, spokesperson for Premier Helen Zille, said the Western Cape government has resolved that financial modelling is required to test the viability of social housing at Tafelberg.

This statement comes after the controversial sale of the vacant Tafelberg School site to Phyllis Jowell Jewish Day school for R135 million. The sale was stopped after an agreement between the provincial government and lawyers for Reclaim the City was made an order of the High Court in April. The issue was opened up to a public participation process.

Mr Mpofu said: “The Department of Transport and Public Works has been mandated by (the province) to produce this modelling, in order for it to take a decision. The Department of Human Settlements are mandated to provide input to the model.

“A total of 8 583 comments were received during public consultations on the potential sale of the Tafelberg property. The extent of the public submissions could not have been anticipated prior to the public consultation process, rendering the initial agreed one-month period for consideration inadequate.”

Mr Mpofu said 4 486 comments were in favour of upholding the sale; 4085 were in favour of pursuing a social housing option; while 12 were in favour of a mixed-use approach.

He added that financial modelling on the viability of housing on the property was not included in any of the submissions.

Premier Helen Zille said: “In taking a decision, cabinet is required to balance the various competing priorities in society, in line with our constitutional mandates. We must also take into account the myriad legislative obligations with which we must comply.

“We look forward to testing the viability of social housing on the Tafelberg properties, based on sound financial modelling. The modelling will look at all available social housing options, based on the prevailing subsidy options, so that a fair and rational decision can be taken.”

Daneel Knoetze, who works in communications at Ndifuna Ukwazi, was happy with the statement by the province.

“This is a victory for black and coloured working class people who need affordable homes in the inner city. Province has accepted that working class people should be considered as potential tenants in the inner city.

“Premier Zille and her cabinet are commended for taking steps towards a well-considered final decision on the sale. The provincial cabinet’s request for financial modelling, to inform its decision, goes well beyond what was required from them in the court settlement of 5 May 2016. Ndifuna Ukwazi, however, makes a number of demands on this process.”

One of their main demands was for an open process. Mr Knoetze added: “In securing this model, province must ensure that the process includes an opportunity for open consultation and proper input from social housing institutions, independent planners and experts. It must also include an opportunity for black and coloured working class people, people who stand to benefit from the housing delivery, to contribute through a public participation process.

“This study is also an opportunity for province to explore innovative options, other than social housing, for maximising the feasibility and yield of affordable housing on Tafelberg. Provincial cabinet should ensure that the study is not an unduly protracted process.”

Other demands included that province must investigate whether the original decision to sell the Tafelberg site was legal.

There was also a concern that the Department of Public Works could not be trusted to undertake the study.

Luke Stevens, vice-chairperson of the Green Point Ratepayers’ and Residents’ Association (GPRRA), said the Western Cape government now has a unique opportunity to demonstrate its capability.

The GPRRA has shown its support for affordable housing on the Atlantic Seaboard (“Ratepayers support social housing”, June 23); (“7-storey stumbling block”, July 28).

“Numerically, this must already rank as one of the more successful public participation processes in the history of local government engagements. Ndifuna Ukwazi’s intervention in the sale has not been politically motivated (as many commentators mistakenly asserted) and they should be congratulated for inspiring a brand of peaceful and diligent democratic activism that is far more meaningful to any democratic process than just a five-yearly trip to the ballot box.”

The Atlantic Sun approached the Sea Point Fresnaye and Bantry Bay Residents’ and Ratepayers’ Association but they declined to comment.

Lance Katz, who is on the board at the Phyllis Jowell Jewish Day School, said: “From our perspective we are supportive of province’s process to properly evaluate the submissions made and to make an informed decision on the proposed sale. We are hopeful that the evaluation will be objective and based on sound principles.”